Jan 152012
 

Not sure what led me to look into this but I took a look at poor defensive teams making the playoffs in the eastern conference.  Over the past 3 seasons there have been just 6 teams to make the playoffs in the eastern conference with goals against averages greater than 2.80.  They are:

  • Tampa Bay Lightning (2010-11):  2.80
  • Ottawa Senators (2009-10): 2.80
  • Pittsburgh Penguins (2009-10):  2.82
  • Montreal Canadiens (2008-09): 2.88
  • Washington Capitals (2008-09):  2.89
  • Ottawa Senators (2007-08): 2.92

Over the past 4 seasons there have been a total of 26 teams with gaa’s above 2.80 and just 6 of those made the playoffs (37.5%).  There have been 18 teams with gaa’s above 2.90 and only one team (the 2007-08 Senators) made the playoffs (5.6%).

What is interesting is that right now there are currently 4 teams in eastern conference playoff spots with goals against averages above 2.80.

  • Washington Capitals: 2.85
  • Philadelphia Flyers:  2.90
  • Toronto Maple Leafs:  3.03
  • Ottawa Senators:  3.07

There are actually only 6 teams in the eastern conference with GAA’s under 2.80 so at least 2 of them over 2.80 would have to be in the playoffs.  Those under 2.80 are the Bruins, Rangers, Penguins, Canadiens , Panthers and Devils.  If history is any indication that means Pittsburgh should be able to climb back into the playoff picture and who knows, maybe there is hope for the Canadiens (wouldn’t bet on it though).  But regardless, it appears there will be a few teams making the playoffs in the eastern conference with gaa’s above 2.80, and maybe even one or two above 3.00.  The only eastern teams to make the playoffs with a gaa above 3.00 post lockout are the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2006-07 (3.11 gaa) and 2005-06 (3.07), Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06 (3.11) and Philadelphia Flyers in 2005-06 (3.04) but offense was significantly higher in those seasons.  Particularly in 2005-06 when only 5 teams had sub 3.00 gaa’s in the east, all making the playoffs.

I should also point out that of the teams that made the playoffs with a GAA above 2.80 in the past 4 seasons, both Ottawa teams missed the playoffs the following season, Tampa is certain to do so this season and Montreal squeeked into the playoffs in 2009-10 with just 88 points, the lowest point total for a playoff team post lockout.  Bad defensive teams don’t generally see much success and should they achieve some it is seemingly not a positive predictor of future success.

 

Apr 132010
 

Washington vs Montreal

Washington was the run away leader in the eastern conference finishing 18 points ahead of second place New Jersey and 33 points ahead of 8th place Montreal. Washington was a middle of the road defensive team but was a truly dominant offensive team scoring on average 3.75 goals per game, more than a half a goal per game more than the Canucks who were the second most offensive team and 1.24 goals per game more than the Canadiens who ranked 26th in the league. Montreal has next to no chance of winning this series unless Jaroslav Halak can outright steal it for them. As good as Halak is, that is not likely to happen and Montreal should just hope they can steal a game or two. Washington in 5.

New Jersey vs Philadelphia

Philadephia is one of the most inconsistent teams in the league, largely due to their suspect goaltending but Brian Boucher has in the past shown he can get real hot for short stretches (he had 5 straight shutouts a couple years back) and the Flyers offense is pretty good so it isn’t inconceivable that the Flyers could upset the Devils. Brodeur is still a very good goalie but has from time to time over the past couple seasons show that he can be beaten and the Devils defense isn’t quite as reliable as it was a few years back. All that said, Parise and Kovalchuk give the Devils two elite level offensive stars and they have an underrated complimentary group surrounding them so I think this series will go to the Devils. New Jersey in 6.

Buffalo vs Boston

The easy prediction is that there probably won’t be many goals scored in this series, especially on the Bruins side of the ledger. Boston was the lowest scoring team in the NHL and the Sabres were the fourth best defensive team in the NHL and the Bruins were second best. Buffalo clearly has an edge having a much better offensive production but the games should all be very close meaning anyone could win with a few lucky bounces. I’ll stick with the Sabres and their better offense though it will be a long series. Buffalo in 7.
Pittsburgh vs Ottawa

For the third time in four years Pittsburgh and Ottawa will meet in the playoffs with Ottawa winning the first series and Pittsburgh the second so this is a rubber match of sorts. Neither Ottawa or Pittsburgh are all that great defensively as these two teams ranked 19th and 20th in the NHL in goals against average and have the lowest goals against average of any of the playoff teams. In Pittsburgh’s case they have just been consistently mediocre defensively for much of the season and in Ottawa’s case it has been result of extreme inconsistency of their goaltenders. Pascal Leclaire has had a dismal season and while Brian Elliot has looked excellent for stretches he still has too many weak games to be considered a relaible goalie. If Pittsburgh gets on Elliot early this could be a short series, but if they let Elliot and the Senators gain confidence they could be a tough opponent for the Penguins and could very well take the series. I personally am not confident in Elliot and I think the good Penguin offense will get the better of him. Pengiuns in 5.

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Apr 082010
 

If you polled hockey fans who the top contenders are for the Stanley Cup, four of the most frequent answers you will get will be Washington and Pittsburgh from the eastern conference and San Jose and Chicago from the western conference. What these teams have in common are very good groups of offensive forwards with multiple star players and some pretty good defensemen to go with them. But what they also have in common are question marks in goal that they will have to overcome if they are to go deep into the playoffs.

San Jose Sharks
We all know about the Sharks playoff failures of recent years and much of the blame has been placed on forwards like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov has been an excellent regular season goalie and been OK in the playoffs but he hasn’t stolen a series for the Sharks and his post Olympic play has to be a concern for Sharks fans. As you are all probably aware, Nabokov had a poor Olympics, and in particular, a really bad game against the Canadian team that cost the Russians a shot at a medal. Since the Olympics he hasn’t been any better having posted an 8-7-1 record with a 3.11 goals against average and a very mediocre .897 save percentage and in 16 post Olympic games he has given up 4 or more goals 7 times (including 5 goals Sunday against possible first round opponent Colorado). That isn’t going to cut it in the playoffs. We know Nabokov can play better, but will he turn his game around come playoff time?

Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks goaltending is an interesting case study into inconsistency. They lead the league in shutouts and are 6th in goals against average but are 7th worst in the league in save percentage. Cristobol Huet can go on stretches where he looks solid and reliable (in his first 21 starts this year he only gave up more than 3 goals once) but then for other stretches he can look downright awful. The end result though is that he is unreliable. Then you have youngster Anti Niemi who has been the better and more reliable goalie this year and has a respectable .913 save percentage but he too has been inconsistent. In 33 starts he has 7 shutouts which is pretty phenomenal (Brodeur leads the league with 9, but he started 73 games) but in those 33 starts he has also given up 4 or more goals 8 times which is not so good.

Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals are not unlike the Chicago Blackhawks as they too have a somewhat unreliable veteren (Theodore) and a quality young goalie (Varlamov) that may or may not be ready to carry the load. I have a little more confidence in the Capitals goaltending though as they have been a little more consistent. As a group they only have 3 shutouts, but they have fewer disaster games too and with the Capitals offensive capabilities that might be good enough but it still has to be a concern for Capitals fans.

Pittsburgh Penguins
There may be some that are surprised to see the Penguins make this list but lets look at the facts. As a team the Penguins have the worst goals against average of any playoff bound team and have the fourth worst save percentage in the NHL. Marc-Andre Fleury has a very mediocre .904 save percentage over the course of the season and a pretty bad .892 save percentage since the Olympics. Since February 1st he has started 20 games and given up at least three goals in 14 of them and four or more goals 6 times. We know Fleury can play well enough to win a Stanley Cup, but his performance this season, and over the past couple months in particular, has not been good enough. To make matters worst for Penguins fans, yesterday on TSN it was pointed out in 17 games against division leaders the Penguins have just 3 wins. Of the top four teams in the east, I think the Penguins are the one team most likely to face a first round playoff exit.

(cross posted at HockeyAnalysis.com)

Oct 172008
 

Bruce Garrioch, Tim Baines, Don Brennan and Chris Stevenson of the Ottawa Sun wrote a ‘discussion style’ article today that brings up an interesting point about the importance of offense from the defensemen.

Don Brennan: Waiting for you guys to say something smart is like waiting for snow to melt … The Senators’ defence last season was a collection of Orrs, Harveys and Coffeys compared to this group. Each year, the Stanley Cup champions get 200-plus points from their blueline. The Senators will be lucky to get 130 from theirs this season. Case closed.

I decided to look into this a little more. Last years Stanley Cup winner, the Detroit Red Wings, had 204 points from their defensemen in the regular season. That was good for best in the NHL. Here are how the rest of the teams defenses stacked up last year including whether they made the playoffs or not.

Eastern Conference

Rank Team DefPts Playoffs
1 Montreal 198 Y
2 Pittsburgh 160 Y
3 Toronto 160 N
4 Buffalo 154 N
5 Washington 148 Y
6 Florida 146 N
7 Ottawa 146 Y
8 Philadelphia 143 Y
9 Boston 136 Y
10 NY Rangers 134 Y
11 Tampa 131 N
12 Carolina 128 N
13 New Jersey 123 Y
14 NY Islanders 120 N
15 Atlanta 91 N

Western Conference

Rank Team DefPts Playoffs
1 Detroit 204 Y
2 Anaheim 165 Y
3 Nashville 160 Y
4 Chicago 151 N
5 Dallas 150 Y
6 Calgary 148 Y
7 Los Angeles 146 N
8 San Jose 146 Y
9 Minnesota 144 Y
10 Phoenix 140 N
11 Colorado 129 Y
12 St. Louis 120 N
13 Vancouver 116 N
14 Edmonton 114 N
15 Columbus 109 N

In the eastern conference, if offense from the defense was the sole factor in making the playoffs Toronto, Buffalo and Florida would have made it and in the west Chicago and Los Angeles would have. But clearly there is some kind of correlation (direct or indirect) between offense from the defense and a teams success. The bottom four teams in the west and four of the bottom 5 in the east missed the playoffs. Simply put, if your defense aren’t producing much offense you will struggle to make the playoffs.

Going a step further, if we look at each playoff matchup we will find the majority of the matchups had the team with the most regular season points from defensemen winning the playoff series. The only exceptions to this are Dallas (150 points) defeating Anaheim (165 points), Colorado (129) defeating Minnesota (144), San Jose (146) defeating Calgary (148) and Philadelphia (143) defeating Washington (148) in the first round and Philadelphia (143) defeating Montreal (198) in the second round.

Of those 5 exceptions, the San Jose-Calgary and Philadelphia-Washington series very similar point production from their defense (within 5 points of each other) so really they aren’t exceptions. They were also both 7 game series so the closeness of the series matched the closeness of their offense from defensemen totals. Plus San Jose added Brian Campbell to their defense which probably gave them the edge over Calgary in regards to offense from their defense.

That really just leaved three series where the team with the lower scoring defensemen defeated teams with higher scoring defensemen and in the case of Dallas, it isn’t like that are lacking in the offense from defense department anyway. Going back one season we saw two teams with high scoring defenses play in the Stanley Cup finals as the Anaheim Ducks (209) defeat the Ottawa Senators (191).

There are certainly a lot of other factors that go into what makes a successful team but based on the past couple seasons, being able to produce offense from your defense seems to be a fairly important factor. Some highly offensive defensemen switched teams this past summer (Boyle to San Jose, Campbell to Chicago, Visnovsky to Edmonton, Redden to NY Rangers, Streit to NY Islanders, McCabe to Florida, etc) so lets see if this really makes an impact on the success of those teams. So far it is a mixed bag with San Jose (4-0-0), the Rangers (5-1-0) and Edmonton (2-0-0) looking like winners while Chicago (1-2-1) and the Islanders (2-2-0) having mixed results.

As for the Senators, they sit at 1-1-1 with 6 points (on 8 goals) from defensemen with newcomer Filip Kuba leading the team with 4 assists.